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Sunday, 14 November 2010

In praise' markets

Why would anyone need to praise farmers’ markets? It’s not like there are hordes of people queuing up to hurl insults at farmers selling their wares. We love fresh food in this country and we like knowing where it’s from. There’s no argument.

But in these straightened times, you hear the growing sound of tummy grumbles. ‘Farmers’ markets are overpriced,’ goes a popular refrain. ‘The food is hardly locally-sourced if you live in London,’ goes another, ‘and besides, farmers’ markets are full of twats.’

The third point is unarguable, but I’d take issue with the others.

There are certainly some things at your average farmers’ market that are overpriced. Normally, they are those items that have little or nothing to do with a farm. No one needs to spend seven pounds on a jar of hazelnut honey, and pre-made pesto sauces don’t need to cost a fiver. Indeed, much of what you might call the artisan-food trade at farmers’ markets is a horrendous rip-off. Thankfully, there’s an easy solution to that: don’t buy from those producers unless you want to. 

Farmers’ market butchers can seem expensive by comparison with supermarkets, I’ll concede. Certainly, their meat is likely to cost more. Things that are miles nicer than other things tend to. I don’t think £10 for 800 grams of rare-breed skirt steak is too bad (price correct as of two weeks ago). Quite apart from the fact that you’d struggle to find skirt in a supermarket (chortle), this is more than competitive with almost anywhere you could buy it. It was bloody delicious too, even if 'rare-breed' is about the least helpful name for a product I can think of.

Yes, there’s the odd venison kidney for ludicrous amounts of money. If you can get one somewhere else, I suggest you do. Is it locally sourced? That depends what you mean by local. You’re probably not getting your deer from Richmond Park, but neither is your steak from Argentina. I’m happy to know that I know where it’s from, whether that’s Wiltshire or Northumbria.

The trick is to be discerning. Some price comparisons from my most recent visit:

Market eggs (free range) - £1.20 for half a dozen

Supermarket eggs (free range) – £1.63 for half a dozen (free range)

Market cavolo nero (bunch), leeks (five), broccoli (head), celeriac (one), onions (four), herb bundle, beetroot (handful) - £4.80

Supermarket cavolo nero (not in my local), leeks (five), broccoli (head), celeriac (see cavolo nero), onions (four), herb bundle (not really available), beetroot (handful) – about £5, if you buy the cheapest range, and without the missing items

Market apples (massive bag) - £1

Supermarket apples (not so massive bag) - £0.97 for basics

You get the point. The quality is hardly comparable either. 

My local farmers’ market is in Queens Park. I imagine it’s up there with the most expensive in London. I still save money shopping there above my local supermarket, and everything tastes good. It’s better value and similar quality to the Riverford veg box I used to get. It’s better quality and fractionally more expensive than Portobello market. There may be better options in London, but not near where I live, and not with Tesco or Sainsbury’s written above the door.

p.s this is very funny - thanks to The Old Hat Club for sharing


  1. I tend to be happy with farmers' market veg but have found eggs can be of dubious freshness. I've bought them before, returned home and straight away started on the fry up only to find the eggs spread all across the pan, having none of the standing proud one would expect from a fresh egg.

  2. Yep, I've had similar experiences, eggs-wise. But after trying a few different stalls, I think we've found one that's pretty reliable. Better than supermarket eggs, anyway.